Department of Children and Families Secretary Reggie Bicha announced this week the launch of the Nurse Family Engagement program that will improve the safety, health and well-being of Milwaukee’s most vulnerable children. This is the latest step by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to improve child welfare in Milwaukee. Nurse Family Engagement adds registered nurses to the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare (BMCW) child welfare team to keep young children in foster care safe and thriving.
“Every child deserves to be safe, healthy, well cared for and loved,” Secretary Bicha said. “This is at the heart of our work at DCF and of the Nurse Family Engagement effort. By adding the knowledge and expertise of medical professionals, we create a powerful team to help families succeed and ensure our youngest children get the start in life they deserve.”
Working in concert with child welfare professionals, registered nurses will visit foster children who are under two years old. These children are the most vulnerable because they are unable to share information with others and are the least likely to be observed by others who could notice signs of abuse or neglect. Nurses will identify barriers and risks to a child’s success and will be directly involved in case consultations and decisions.
“Nurse Family Engagement is the latest of many positive and meaningful changes made by DCF since it was created,” said Dr. Earnestine Willis, Partnership Council member and Professor of Pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “I am proud to be a part of this effort and thrilled to see the unique skills of trained nurses and other medical professionals applied to protect Milwaukee’s most vulnerable children.”
The Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare anticipates the nurse supervisors to be in place this summer. Adding nurses is the latest step in a number of DCF child welfare advancements, which include: additional support and resources for foster parents; licensing for relative foster parents; a new director at the BMCW; and an increase in BMCW child welfare staff.
The Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare works with families to ensure the safety and well-being of children. Overseen by DCF, BMCW provides child protective services to Milwaukee County. The BMCW promotes the best interest of children by supporting and encouraging families to resolve problems that threaten the safety of their children.
The new program will staff 10 nurses, the supervisor and one nurse have already been hired, the 8 additional positions are being sought after now.
Secretary Bicha said that when this program was being put together, the department looked for other cities that had such a program in place to look at. They were not able to locate any, so it seems that Milwaukee will be the pioneer in this crucial area of foster care and the medical needs for some of the most underserved children in the state.
Arlene Happach, director of BMCW stated that one of the most attractive aspects of this new program is the fact that the nurses will be involved from the initial assessment and continue through ongoing assessments as well. This ingredient allows for the most early detection possible of any medical issues that may be present, and therefore allow for early treatment.
Secretary Bicha also stated that since the new department was formed 22 months ago, there have been many challenges to meet. “When Governor Doyle hired me for this position, and this department was formed, he made it clear that he wasn’t looking for more bureaucracy, but effective solutions. And so far we feel that we have been successful with that. Child safety is the backbone of our work. In 2008 when the department was first formed there were 2700 children in foster care, today that number is down to 2000. The department has been successful in safely reducing the number of children in foster care. But for those that remain, this new program is an essential part of keeping these children safe.”
The nurses will make the visits along with the social workers, therefore these two professions working together will help in making the assessments and ongoing care the most effective.